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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

‘The Indian performing arts industry is largely unsupported financially’: Mallika Sarabhai

"The pandemic has broken the back of many [artistes] who were managing to survive. A new funding body needs to be set up to fund the arts," she added.

Written by Shweta Sharma | New Delhi |
November 16, 2021 12:30:03 pm
Mallika Sarabhai, Mallika Sarabhai Kuchipudi, Mallika Sarabhai interviewFor me, dance, theatre, music and mask work are all different languages I use to communicate, she said. (Source: PR handout)

A leading exponent of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, Mallika Sarabhai is an acclaimed classical dancer and activist. As someone who started young, the artiste says classical dance forms have definitely “blossomed around the world”, but adds that “when there is a blossoming you get orchids and roses but also weeds and wildflowers.”

The performance artiste, who has also experimented with mediums like theatre, films, and music, recently performed at National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) after it reopened after a hiatus of nearly one and a half years. As such, we caught up with her to know more about her illustrious career, the effect of the pandemic on the industry, classical dance forms and much more!

The art and culture scene has slowly started to make a comeback after a hiatus of nearly two years, how does it feel to be performing again?

It’s exciting, tense, and exhilarating. However, at the end of the day, its all worth it.

During the pandemic, many artistes reached out to their viewers/listeners via digital shows. What is your take on the new medium?

When you talk of artists reaching out, you are only talking of a tiny proportion of artists who are known and are digitally connected. There are many artists that come from villages, itinerant troops of folk and tribal performers that have been starved. What about the craft that feeds the artists — the maker of the ghumgru or the ones who skin the hides for the drums or the weavers who weave Kanjivaram saris for our costumes? They were all starved too.

 

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A post shared by Mallika Sarabhai (@mallikasarabhai)

For a small group of us, things were relatively easy but there was no income. We were creating digital performances and putting them online but nearly everything was for free. In my personal case, because Darpana’s (dance school) artistic director is a film and video maker and creator, we were aligned working with the digital medium for a long time, thus, we could create and recreate pieces for the digital medium.

The pandemic affected the industry in a huge way. What do you think it must do to bounce back in the post-pandemic world?

The Indian performing art industry is largely unsupported financially. People make do by teaching or have another job. The pandemic has broken the back of many who were managing to survive. A new funding body needs to be set up to fund the arts. Look at how many countries internationally have supported artists through the pandemic by granting significant sums to support artists, no questions asked, and no kowtowing required.

You started young; how would you describe the evolution of classical dance in India over the years?

It has blossomed around the world, and when there is a blossoming you get orchids and roses but also weeds and wildflowers. We are there right now, where there are lots of mixes and hybrids.

 

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A post shared by Mallika Sarabhai (@mallikasarabhai)

While Bollywood has often featured classical dance forms, not many films are made on traditional dance forms and its many nuances. What are your views? 

There is a web series on Homi Bhabha and my father (Vikram Sarabhai) being made called Rocket Boys. I have been creating Amma’s dance pieces for the series. But I don’t think such pucca Pandanallir Bhatatanatyam has ever been in any mainstream film or series.

In a similar vein, what is your take on the commercialisation of classical dance forms?

We need to reimagine everything we do, hold sacred, live, and think to get rid of all the false gods we value. There is no simple or siloed solution.

The pandemic has been a learning experience for many; what has been your biggest learning — both personally and professionally?

My biggest learning has been that we can do without so much, that we clutter our lives with; and that a hug from a loved one is worth a million likes on social media. Another thing that I learnt is that we must value today because we may not have a tomorrow.

What is the one thing you missed the most in the last two years?

Be it domestic travel for shows or leisure travel, I have immensely missed travelling.

 

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A post shared by Mallika Sarabhai (@mallikasarabhai)

You can have experimented with theatre — what is the best thing you like about the medium?

For me, dance, theatre, music and mask work are all different languages I use to communicate. Different ones are effective for different subjects and reasons.

Can you tell us about your recent performance?

My Kuchipudi guru is largely unsung. The evening was a celebration of C R Acharyelu and his immense contribution to reviving temple dances that could easily have been lost with the abolition of temple dancers. That is what I presented in ‘An Evening with Mallika Sarabhai & Rama Vaidyanathan’.

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